The news that Ted Haggard had to resign from his church in Colorado because of sexual immorality has touched all of us very deeply. Whether we knew him or not, many of us knew of him and the great work that God had done through him in the past. We're praying regularly for him and his family as they endure a crisis that can scarcely be imagined. The impact of such a high profile moral failure is enormous. Because a minister represents Jesus Christ, a moral failure tarnishes the reputation and power of our Savior. One woman, who has been exploring Christianity for the past two years, wrote to me, "I don't know what to believe.... I know that Christianity doesn't make anyone perfect, but events like this downfall make me ask whether it's all real or just one more flawed world view."
So who can you trust?
We all remember the days when new allegations of sexual abuse by priests were being reported every day. Hundreds of people came forward to say that someone they trusted — indeed, someone who supposedly represented the highest degree of integrity — deceived them.
The Enron debacle is old news, except for those who have to live without their investments and pensions. What makes people angry is that when the wealthy knew the ship was sinking, they bailed out on well-endowed life rafts and left the common investor to float on the open sea. One retiree said that her $700,000 investment ended up as $20,000. "Who can you trust?" she asked.
Opinion polls tell us that the majority of college students say they cheat (if you can believe what they tell you!!). Quite frankly, we have good reason to be skeptical in our relationships; we have good reason to ask whether the people we depend upon are worthy of our trust.
How do we tell the good guys from the bad guys? How do we know who is trustworthy and who is not? There is no easy answer. Just ask a young woman who has been abused by her father, a respected deacon in his church. Everyone, including his family, believed he was the epitome of integrity and dependability. But in the end, the man proved to be deceitful, and indeed evil. Sometimes we cannot even trust those who should be most committed to our nurture and care.
Why are people untrustworthy? Though we like to think we are driven by rational instincts, the truth is that we are too often driven by our selfish desires. And because we want to be well thought of, it is easy for us to pay careful attention to our outward persona, and totally neglect the integrity of our hearts. In fact, sometimes people not only deceive others, but they actually end up deceiving themselves. When our self-deception is complete, we can become wicked, destroying those around us to protect our sick self.
That the sins of the world have become the sins of the Church is clear enough to see. And this shows that as evangelicals we are not only facing a crisis in morality, but also a crisis in basic biblical spirituality — we are content with a shallow relationship with the Lord that allows us to live in two worlds, the public world in which we exude righteousness and the hidden one in which we satisfy our sinful desires.
Rebuilding destroyed trust is well nigh impossible. Just ask a woman who has discovered that her husband has been having an affair for the past two years. Or, think of someone who has betrayed a secret, or that man who agreed to repay a loan, but ignores the commitment. Trust, like a vase that falls from the mantelpiece, can be put back together, but only with much time and care.
So, who can you trust?
Thankfully, there are many people who have proved many times over that they can be believed; there is a match between what they profess and the way they live. But at the same time the Bible warns, "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on the flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord" (Jer. 17:5).
One lesson we should remember when people we trusted disappoint us is to turn once again to the Lord and renew desire to believe him no matter what. We must remind those who turn away from the Lord because of the failure of others, that at the end of the day they are still confronted with a Christ who invites us to believe in him regardless of the failures of his followers.
A second lesson is that we should search our own hearts and remember that failure-serious failure-is possible for anyone of us. A person who stumbles en route to the heavenly city should cause all of us to ask, "Am I next?" We should be motivated to clean up our own lives and have greater desire to pursue personal holiness.
Our great temptation is to minimize our sin by ascribing it to our background, our human nature, and our culture. These explanations might be true enough, but they do not tell the whole story: God has promised victory and grace to those who walk in His ways. To minimize sin is to minimize grace. Only when we see sin in all of its horror are we able to appreciate the matchless grace that both keeps us from falling and picks us up after we stumble.